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by James Huang
July 16, 2018
Photography by James Huang
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Shimano’s single-sided PD-A600 SPD road pedal isn’t new; far from it, in fact. First introduced in 2010, it was originally billed as an Ultegra-level alternative for roadies who wanted the stability of a traditional three-bolt system but the walking convenience of a recessed two-bolt cleat.
Roadies are a finicky bunch, however, and so the A600 has only been modestly successful from a commercial standpoint. Shimano hasn’t even bothered to update it since it debuted eight years ago. However, the rise of gravel riding has brought the idea back to the forefront since two-bolt pedals and walkable shoes are much friendlier in that environment than any of the usual road options.
In that context, the Shimano A600 offers a tough-to-beat package that combines a sleek appearance, relatively low weight, outstanding bearing durability, and a very approachable price point.
One of the biggest motivations for sticking with a traditional three-bolt road pedal system is the larger contact surface area it provides. Under harder pedaling efforts — and especially on longer rides — this helps distribute the load over a greater portion of the shoe (and thus, your foot) for greater comfort as the kilometers tick away.
Wider platforms also help stabilize your feet to keep them from rocking out of plane, which not only helps with power transfer, but can potentially alleviate joint stress for riders that are more sensitive to that sort of thing.
Shimano’s PD-A600 SPD road pedals have never managed to be much more than a niche product, but the rise in gravel riding is making them more relevant than ever.
The A600’s standard Shimano SPD SH-51 cleat is positively tiny as compared to the road variants from Shimano, Look, or Time, though (and even Speedplay’s lollipop-like design has more cleat-to-pedal contact area than this). As a result, one might assume that the A600 would feel like a wobbly mess. However, Shimano gets around this by instead supporting the tread blocks on shoes with recessed two-bolt cleat pockets.
Taking that into account, the A600’s support platform is actually fairly wide. The four degrees of free float also feels rather, well, free — not quite as silky-smooth as a set of fresh and clean road pedals and cleats, mind you, but not too far off, either.
Granted, there are caveats. That stability and rotation performance are heavily dependent on how well the shoes interface with the pedal, and perhaps not surprisingly, shoes designed for cross-country MTB racing work best in that situation given they’re usually made with fairly hard tread blocks and stiff carbon fiber soles that provide added support.
The Shimano PD-A600 pedals offer excellent support and stability when paired with the right shoes, but it’s not hard to see how things can be less-than-optimal otherwise. The quality of the interface will also degrade over time as the shoe lugs – and the pedal body itself – wear.
The A600s also provide a reassuringly secure hold, they’re as easy to engage as conventional road pedals since the body always hangs at the right angle, there’s ample tangible and audible feedback from the entry and release, and there’s a good range of tension adjustment on tap as well.
Truth be told, I’ll put my hand up as one of those roadie snobs who once wouldn’t be caught dead in treaded shoes on a proper road ride. But in all honesty, the difference in performance between these A600 pedals and good XC race shoes, and dedicated road shoes and pedals, was impressively subtle in my six months comparing the two setups.
Even better, the cartridge-style axle assembly is well sealed and very easy to service, with proper steel ball bearings throughout instead of plastic bushings that will wear out over time. The forged aluminum bodies have proven impressively tough, too. Whereas some carbon fiber or plastic pedal bodies would explode on even moderate impacts, these A600s have shrugged off a number of direct rock strikes.
The cartridge-style axle assembly is widely used in Shimano’s pedal range, and offers well-proven durability. When needed, it’s also very easy to service.
The A600 pedals even manage to impress on the scales. Actual weight for a pair is just 292g, plus another 51g for the cleats. For comparison, a set of current Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 pedals and cleats weighs in at 305g — a saving of just 38g with a huge increase in cost.
Granted, that doesn’t take into account the fact that treaded shoes are also heavier than road-specific ones, so the effective difference is larger. Taking the Specialized S-Works 6 road shoes vs. the S-Works 6 XC MTB shoes, for example, you’re looking at another 126g, for a more significant total gain of 164g. But if you were to instead compare the A600s to more budget-minded road pedals, it’s almost a wash.
There are other downsides to note, too.
As with every road pedal (Speedplay excluded), the A600’s single-sided format is trickier to get going from stoplights and on sketchy terrain than dual-sided designs, and unlike some of Shimano’s earlier attempts at roadie-friendly, single-sided SPD pedals, this is a true single-sided design with a rounded undercarriage that feels unquestionably sketchy if you try to stand on it. And while the A600’s alloy construction is enviably tough, it doesn’t take long before the shiny dark painted surface — it’s not anodized, sadly — starts looking beat up.
Road pedal performance is often heavily influenced by the the shape and amount of contact between the cleat and pedal. The cleat on the Shimano PD-A600 pedals is miniscule, but the wide pedal helps make up for that by supporting the lugs of properly chosen shoes.
It’s also a little disappointing that, unlike on Shimano’s more recent upper-end pedals, the A600 does without stainless steel wear plates on the platform; the shoe tread instead sits directly on the painted aluminum surface. That will wear over time, degrading the quality of the pedal-to-shoe fit (and, subsequently, the stability of the system). The fit quality will also degrade as the shoe tread wears. My advice would be to choose your shoes wisely — look for harder-durometer rubber around the cleat pocket — and then tread lightly.
But why even bother with a single-sided SPD pedal, anyway? Good question.
Providing a platform this wide in a dual-sided pedal would not only make for a lot of aluminum (which would make the pedals heavy), but also adversely affect pedal clearance through corners. Getting a set of dual-sided SPD-type pedals this light would also mean spending a lot more money. Whereas retail price for a pair of A600s is just US$110 (and the street price is much lower), only Shimano’s XTR Race pedals are similarly svelte, and those retail for US$180. Sure, lighter dual-sided MTB pedals exist outside of the Shimano catalog, but few offer the same combination of pedal body and proven durability. Replacement cleats are dirt cheap, too, and they’re infrequently needed, anyway.
So what do we have here in total with the humble Shimano PD-A600 pedals? Good performance, sleek looks, outstanding durability and toughness, and a low price to boot. Sign me up.
Shimano first introduced its SPD two-bolt pedal retention system way back in 1990 with the original PD-M737 mountain bike pedal. Although the design has evolved since then, its basic interface is much the same as it once was.
Dual-sided pedals certainly offer more convenience, but the single-sided format allows for a wider platform, better cornering, less weight, and lower cost.
While it may not seem like it at first glance, the platform width of the Shimano PD-A600 is actually better than many dedicated road systems out there. There isn’t much support lengthwise, though, so it’s still important to pair these pedals with stiff carbon-soled shoes.
The open architecture allows the system to still be fully functional when caked with mud, snow, and debris, which definitely isn’t the case with traditional road pedal systems.
The rounded underside looks sleek, but it makes for a sketchy surface to stand on if you try to rush away from a stoplight without being properly clipped in.
The SH-51 cleats are not only easy to find, but also cheap and supremely hard-wearing.